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I’m in the midst of 48 hours this week at my paid department. I worked 12-hour day shifts Tuesday and today and will work two more shifts later this week.

On Wednesday, my volunteer department went to a house fire in town… I didn’t hear the pager and was alerted by the siren of our first-due truck going by on the other side of the valley. The four guys on the truck did a textbook-perfect stop; broke the the utility room windows from the outside, immediately hit the room from inside with a hose line, and used hydraulic ventilation to pull the extension out of the walls. Good stuff.

When I arrived, I was sent in with the thermal imager and some hand tools to check the upstairs for extension. Although I hadn’t yet seen the room where the fire originated, I could tell where it had been in relation to upper floors by the obvious elevated temperature on the walls of a partition between the upstairs bathroom and a bedroom on the second floor and a similar setup on the third floor; the fire had been below and had extended up through the partition. I poked a hole in the wall of the bedroom on the second floor to peer inside… I could briefly see embers before my SCBA face-piece fogged over, indicating significant heat coming out of the hole. At this point the low-air alarm on the firefighter with me started to go off. A team from another department was just coming through the door with a hose line so we pointed out the hole and left them to pull down the rest of the wall and douse the embers.

I stopped to talk to one of the homeowners, the husband, who was out in the yard watching. He pointed proudly to a large ship model on the ground. He explained that he had spent 14 months putting it together, had completed it Sunday, and was not going to let it burn.

I noticed that he had some melted plastic and burns on his arms. He said that some plastic bottles had exploded on him, but that they were nothing. I told him that I was sorry for his loss and went back over to the staging area. There were two EMTs in staging so I pointed out the homeowner and his arms. They went over and spoke with him, took him to the ambulance, and cleaned and bandaged him.

I changed my air bottle and had some water. A bit later, I was given a crew and sent back in to look for extension in a particular void under the stairs in the downstairs, directly adjacent to the seat of the fire. We had to move a lot of things to get at our objective; we were very careful and sent some photos directly outside. We eventually got into the void and found that it was empty of fire. Upon further orders by radio, we went upstairs with the thermal imager and a CO meter for another check. There were still high levels of CO but temperatures were coming down.

My crew left the house and went back to staging. I reported our findings to my Deputy Chief… This is when the photo was taken. That’s me in the middle, still wearing my face-piece (though with the regulator removed).

There’s a tradition, perhaps confined to the region, that a firefighter who appears in a newspaper and is named will buy his or her shift lunch. Both of my departments are claiming this honor; my volunteer department for obvious reasons… But also my paid department.

I have my own helmet that I shuttle back and forth between my two departments. Sometimes, for one reason or another, I don’t exchange the front shield that identifies the rank and department… It takes a few minutes and a screwdriver to replace the shield. I was working at the paid department Tuesday and Thursday so did not switch the shield. Thus, in the photograph, I am identifiable as a member of my paid department. They say I owe them lunch, as well.

Rabid has offered to make tofu for everyone. I’m not sure if that would work.

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